Today we’re going to get serious for a minute and talk about food deserts.
A food desert is defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “urban neighborhoods + rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” For example, instead of a supermarket with a produce department, a community might be served by convenience stores that sell only highly-processed and packaged foods, which results in nutritional deficits and diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Food deserts are also directly correlated to food insecurity — where there’s less access to affordable foods, more people go hungry. In Wake County alone, 50,000+ people live more than one mile from a grocery store + NC has ranked 10th highest in the nation for food insecurity.
- 14% of Wake County’s population qualifies as food insecure.
- 18% of Wake County children live in food insecure homes.
- Only 14% of eligible children receive free summer meals.
- Seniors (adults aged 65+) are also high risk for food insecurity.
- Food insecurity is expected to increase 38% by December, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past few years, our city has seen a surge of new grocery stores being built to serve the downtown area and adjacent communities — including Weaver Street Market in the Warehouse District, Publix on Peace Street, Wegman’s at Midtown East + the forthcoming Saxapahaw General Store, to be located at Transfer Co. in the Olde East neighborhood.
But affordable, fresh food is still hard to come by in several parts of East and Southeast Raleigh, where the USDA estimates more than 30% of the population lives more than one mile from a supermarket.
Since 2017, Wake County has been working to implement five strategies for “moving beyond hunger” in our region. The steps include: ensuring food access, educating the community about food insecurity, developing a sustainable food supply, building economic opportunity + leading through networks.
What resources are available?
- The federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is available to individuals and households with gross monthly income below 130% of the poverty line. A family of three, for example, with a household income of $2,311 qualifies for a monthly benefit up to $500.
- The Fertile Ground Food Cooperative was established in 2015 to increase access to affordable and healthy food in Southeast Raleigh.
- The Wake County Social Equity Atlas includes a food resource locator to help local residents find nearby food pantries, SNAP retailers, farmers’ markets + community gardens.
- The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (part of the national organization Feeding America) delivers locally-grown food to community members in need. Click here to view the mobile market schedule or find out how to volunteer.
- The Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC services 34 counties — approximately 600,000 local residents — to help alleviate hunger. More than 23 million meals were distributed from the Raleigh branch alone last year.
- No Kid Hungry NC helps to provide meals for children — including breakfast and afternoon snacks — throughout the school year and during summer breaks. Along with volunteers from local school districts, they’ve also worked to ensure kids who rely on school meals are still provided for during remote learning experiences.
- Orders from local subscription service The Produce Box help support the donation of “hero boxes” and bulk produce for local firemen, community workers + families in need.
- The food pantry at Urban Ministries of Wake County serves 50 families per day + last year the organization distributed 270 tons of food to local community members.
- TABLE — located in Carrboro — provides healthful food and nutrition education for families in Orange County. Each week they provide food for ~700 children.
Want to learn more?